Ice Age Trail

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One of only 11 National Scenic Trails, the Ice Age Trail is a footpath of more than 1,000 miles through the Wisconsin landscape and scenery. Beginning in Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay, Door County, the trail travels through 30 counties before ending in Interstate State Park in St. Croix Falls, Polk County, near the Wisconsin-Minnesota border. [1] The trail follows the path of the last continental glacier in Wisconsin. [2] While the trail provides many resources to residents of the area, it also relies heavily on donated funds and the work of volunteers. The Ice Age Trail continues to connect Wisconsin communities together today which is why it should be preserved and respected by all.

Map and Logo of the Ice Age Trail
Ice Age Trail Map and Logo as of April 2017. Source: National Park Service

History

About 10,000 years ago, Wisconsin’s last known glacier left a strip of deposited sediment across the state. [3] In 1926, the Milwaukee Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, an organization built upon preserving our natural heritage, purchased 800 acres of land around Moon Lake in the Northern Kettle Moraine. This area included many glacial ridges and was eventually established as a state forest. In order to protect the Kettle Moraine, Raymond Zillmer, a Milwaukee attorney and president of the Milwaukee Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, avidly worked to fulfill his vision of extending the Glacial Hiking Trail in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. [4] In 1958, Raymond Zillmer wanted to preserve the memory of the glacier and protect the state’s geological features so he proposed a national park named the Wisconsin Glacier National Forest Park. Zillmer believed that the average working man should be able to experience and enjoy nature which is why his park proposal wound through forests, farms, and rural communities. Raymond Zillmar was adamant about a long and narrow park so that it could be “reached by almost everyone in the state in an hour’s drive.” [5] To gain public support, Zillmer founded the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation in 1958. He eventually convinced the National Park Service (NPS) to consider his idea, but they ultimately thought that a park along a path more than 100 miles in length would be too difficult to manage. Instead, NPS and Wisconsin State officials came up with the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve which was nine separate units around Wisconsin. These units all featured geologic features which was signed into legislation by President Johnson in 1964. But, Zillmer’s goal of a long-distance hiking trail was not abandoned. In the early 1970s, the Ice Age Trail Council was formed to build new segments of a trail. Many of the new segments were built upon handshakes with private landowners. On October 3, 1980, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail was officially signed by President Carter which linked six of the Scientific Reserve units together. [6] In 1979, Jim Staudacher of Milwaukee, age 20, became the first person to hike the Ice Age Trail in its entirety. [7] In 1990, the Ice Age Trail Council merged with the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation which was changed into the Ice Age Trail Alliance in 2009. [8]

Picture of Jim Staudacher during the summer of 1979 when he became the first person to hike the entire Ice Age Trail
During the summer of 1979, Jim Staudacher became the first person to hike the entire Ice Age Trail. Source: Wisconsin Historical Society

Geology

When the last period of the Ice Age, known as the Wisconsin Glaciation, swept through Wisconsin, it left behind many geological features. In fact, it defines two-thirds of Wisconsin's landscape. [9] Included on the Ice Age trail route are erratics, eskers, kames, kettles, moraines, tunnel channels, and more. Erratics are large, smooth boulders that were left behind when the ice melted. They can be found along the entire trail except for the Driftless Area which is the unglaciated land in southwestern Wisconsin. Eskers are ridges of sand and gravel deposited by rivers that flowed at the bottom of the glacier; they can most notably be seen in the northern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest at the Parnell Esker. Also in the Kettle Moraine are kames which are conical hills formed by water that flowed downward through shafts in the glacier. Kettles, crater-like holes in the ground formed by blocks of melting ice, can be found in many places along the trail. Defining the path of the trail, moraines are deposited ridges of sand, gravel, and boulders. A series of lakes known as tunnel channels also come from glaciers. They are created by fast moving rivers under glaciers which form valleys. Along the trail, examples would include the New Hope-lola Ski Hill Segment in Portage County and the Straight River Segment in Polk County. [10] [11] As hikers travel along the Ice Age Trail, there is a multitude of geological features that are waiting to be seen.

Preservation Efforts

State Ice Age Trail Areas

State Ice Age Trail Areas (SIATAs) are parts of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail that the DNR purchased in order to protect the land and glacial features. SIATAs only offer low-impact public recreation such as hiking and backpacking. Also included in some SIATAs is the opportunity for distance hikers to camp in dispersed camping areas without the use of any facilities. [12]

Ice Age National Scientific Reserve

Established in 1964, the nine units of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve remain today. They were originally intended to protect the glacial landscapes of Wisconsin which include:

  • Two Creeks Buried Forest
  • Kettle Moraine
  • Campbellsport Drumlins
  • Horicon Marsh
  • Cross Plains
  • Devil's Lake
  • Mill Bluff
  • Chippewa Moraine
  • Interstate State Park [13]

Recreational Information

The Ice Age Trail is primarily meant for hiking and backpacking, but a few sections of the trail are also open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Bicycling, horse-back riding, and snowmobiling are also available along the segments of the trail that use the state rail trails, such as the Sugar River State Trail. Along the trail route, there are hundreds of trailheads and access points for the more than 600 miles of trail that are open to the public. Camping is also very popular along the Ice Age Trail as it passes through many national, state, and county forests along with many state and county parks. During the proper seasons, hunting and fishing may also be allowed with the correct permits.[14] [15] Even though much of the recreation is outdoors, there are still opportunities for indoor activities along the Ice Age Trail. Interpretive Centers in the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Interstate State Park, and Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area are staffed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who are able to explain Wisconsin’s glacial history and geology. [16]

Ice Age Trail Partners

The Ice Age Trail is managed and maintained by the National Park Service, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the Ice Age Trail Alliance. Together, they work to provide funding and protection for the trail while also continually opening new sections. [17] Most volunteers do the work, particularly with the Mobile Skills Crew Program, a part of the Ice Age Trail Alliance. The Mobile Skills Crew is a group of volunteers who participate in trail-building projects from spring until fall. Trained volunteers lead construction and clean-up projects each year. [18]

References

  1. "About the Ice Age Trail," Ice Age Trail Alliance, accessed April 27, 2017, http://www.iceagetrail.org/ice-age-trail/
  2. "Ice Age National Scenic Trail," Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, last revised September 27, 2016, http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/iceagetrail/
  3. Sarah Mittlefehldt, “The Origins of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail: Ray Zillmer’s Path to Protect the Past”, Wisconsin Magazine of History 90, no. 3 (2007): 4
  4. "History," Ice Age Trail Alliance, accessed April 27, 2017, http://www.iceagetrail.org/iata/history/
  5. Sarah Mittlefehldt, “The Origins of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail: Ray Zillmer’s Path to Protect the Past”, Wisconsin Magazine of History 90, no. 3 (2007): 6-7
  6. "History," Ice Age Trail Alliance, accessed April 27, 2017, http://www.iceagetrail.org/iata/history/
  7. Sarah Mittlefehldt, “The Origins of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail: Ray Zillmer’s Path to Protect the Past”, Wisconsin Magazine of History 90, no. 3 (2007): 13
  8. "History," Ice Age Trail Alliance, accessed April 27, 2017, http://www.iceagetrail.org/iata/history/
  9. David M. Mickelson, Louis J. Maher and Susan L. Simpson, introduction to Geology of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011), 4
  10. "Ice Age Trail Landscape & Geology" Ice Age Trail Alliance, accessed April 27, 2017, http://www.iceagetrail.org/ice-age-trail/ice-age-trail-landscape-geology/#
  11. Sarah Mittlefehldt, “The Origins of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail: Ray Zillmer’s Path to Protect the Past”, Wisconsin Magazine of History 90, no. 3 (2007): 10
  12. "State Ice Age Trail Areas," Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, last revised September 27, 2016, http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/iceagetrail/siatas.html
  13. "Nature & Science," National Park Service, accessed April 27, 2017, https://www.nps.gov/iatr/learn/nature/index.htm
  14. "Outdoor Activities," National Park Service, accessed April 27, 2017, https://www.nps.gov/iatr/planyourvisit/outdooractivities.htm
  15. "Ice Age National Scenic Trail," Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, last revised September 27, 2016, http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/iceagetrail/
  16. "Indoor Activities," National Park Service, accessed April 27, 2017, https://www.nps.gov/iatr/planyourvisit/indooractivities.htm
  17. "Ice Age National Scenic Trail," Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, last revised September 27, 2016, http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/iceagetrail/
  18. "Mobile Skills Crew Program," Ice Age Trail Alliance, accessed April 27, 2017, http://www.iceagetrail.org/volunteer/mobile-skills-crew-program/

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